[Review] Sea Salt – Nintendo Switch

Written by Kevin Scully
  • Developer: YCJY Games
  • Publisher: YCJY Games
  • Release Date: 17/10/2019
  • Price: $14.99 / £13.49
  • Review code provided by YCJY Games

I’m The Bad Guy, Duh

The Archbishop of Nova Ugarit has refused to sacrifice himself to the ancient deity Dagon and in doing so has doomed the entire country. In Sea Salt you take command of an Apostle of Dagon, who in turn has the ability to summon and direct an army of horrors to unleash terror and plight to get your sacrifice by force.

Sea salt is a 2D top down action game in which you control the ‘Eye of Dagon’ essentially a cursor to direct your swarm of monsters, which have two states; movement and attack. You guide these horrors around various locations from the sea through the countryside and ultimately to the cathedral to confront the Archbishop. Initially the temptation is simply to overwhelm the villagers and soldiers with sheer numbers, but strategy starts to play a part as you unlock different beasts to unleash via a growing dark tarot deck. Some will be long range projectile throwers, some singular hulking masses, others a small army of crabs. Getting the balance right in your own personal black army is the key to reaching the end.

Salting the Wound

As you move the collection of monsters around the stages, you must contend first with villagers, fishermen, and farmers. The worst this group can do is run or swipe with a pitchfork. Eventually you will face soldiers, catapults, and hunters who suddenly have the ability to wipe out your swarm with a couple of attacks. Any early glee at overwhelming and tearing apart innocents is soon replaced by a more cautious picking through each stage with a mix of summoned creatures. The creatures are unlocked at intervals throughout the game, a beautiful tarot deck showcasing their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Some will be incredibly weak but make up for it with numbers; some move slow but can fire projectiles. You can summon at altars throughout the levels, or when you have looted enough gold from the corpses of your victims. These are the moments that will make or break a run, picking the wrong mix of beast almost guarantees failure.

As well as being able to select the creatures, you are also allowed to pick an unseen Apostle to command the legion. These come with individual perks; starting summon and abilities’. Extra Apostles are granted through the game on completion of tasks. There are several familiar elements in Sea Salt that you’ll recognise from top down action games and RTS games. However the game that kept coming to mind was Cannon Fodder, direct control of a small group of soldiers; trying to outflank enemies as much as directly attacking to avoid losing any of the party. As well as the main campaign there is an Arena mode on offer, stages of which are unlocked as they are encountered in the main game. This turns the tables again, from being on the offensive across the stages you now have to survive waves of enemies, keep your small swarm from being totally picked off. I found this mode helped me establish some of my favourite swarm builds to emulate back in the story.

Feeling Sea Sick

The game is a top-down chunky pixel style, with clear HP Lovecraft inspiration, the ancient evil you control and the Victorian countryside and town make for a muted brown/grey colour scheme. This can cause issues with visibility, often the smaller elements of your army can become lost to the eye amongst the street furniture or blood splatters. I found the menu art, and in particular the deck of cards that represented the beasts much more appealing than how they looked in the game. More vibrancy wouldn’t fit the tone of the game at all, but clarity and contrast would aid the playability a lot. There are unique moments in the game, the initial tutorial level on a large sail boat, and boss battles, and these really stand out both visually and I wish more variety was sprinkled through the game, as such nondescript fields and streets make up an overwhelming amount.

Weird Tails

The control of the Eye of Dagon can feel very imprecise, as the summoned creatures all have different movement speeds, which will often mean you have to manage the pace a little, fighting the temptation to swarm the enemy with speed and rather pick though areas with caution, which breaks the feeling of being a H.P. Lovecraft sea deity a little. This also seemed to cause elements of my swarm to get caught up in previous areas of the map, in areas I couldn’t reach to reclaim them. While performance felt identical on handheld and docked, I preferred playing with the console in my hands as the great swathes of brown and grey that make up the game were slightly more readable on the smaller scale.

The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors

Sea Salt is a great concept, a familiar action RTS mechanic turned on its head by pitching us as the source of darkness and misery. In recent years we’ve seen Lovecraftian ocean terrors in Sea of Thieves and Return of The Obra Dinn, but being given control of the monsters is unique, and enjoyable. If there was more variety in the visuals of the gameplay, and in the settings themselves that would lift Sea Salt above the novelty I currently feel this sits as.

Pros

  • Familiar concept turned on its head.
  • Action strategy is simple and easy to grasp.
  • Brilliant Lovecraftian Atmosphere.

Cons

  • Muddy visuals.
  • Repetitive levels.
  • Controls can feel sluggish and inaccurate.

Verdict
Sea Salt works to a point, early levels reinforce the concept of controlling evil and unleashing terror, and are genuinely enjoyable. The novelty fades quickly and I was ready for the game to be over at about the halfway stage. Everything surrounding the game works well; menu screens, music, cutscenes, all build an atmosphere of dread and unease, but after some time in the game itself, that atmosphere is overtaken by fatigue.
2.5

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